The 2020 Cadillac XT6 frustrates and impresses in equal measure

2020 Cadillac XT6 front 3/4

Looking for a great second-row cupholder? You’ve come to the right place, because the Cadillac XT6 has one. At the Washington, D.C.-based launch event for the firm’s kinda-sorta-new three-row crossover, Senior Designer Gary Mack told the assembled press that “We spent a lot of time… to make that feel like quality.” 

It was no empty boast. The piece in question slides out on an expensive-feeling mechanism, halting its travel with a bank-vault thunk. Cups are placed on a stainless-steel-and-rubber plinth which in turn nestles within a sensuously-grained tapering cylinder. 

Other than the fact that the cupholder in question is located about four inches from the vehicle floor, it is easy to see how this singular detail could seduce an otherwise undecided buyer, particularly one with dreams of making a splash in the Uber Black listings. Five-star ratings are all but guaranteed when your fare spots the glass bottle of Voss sprouting from such a device. 

The rest of the XT6, unfortunately, is unlikely to obtain a five-star rating from anyone. Not, mind you, because of execution. The execution is largely outstanding. This bluff-faced sedan-on-stilts fairly bristles with surprise-and-delight features, from USB-C ports in the second row to optional LED headlights that are smart enough to exclude the drivers of oncoming vehicles from an otherwise blinding blast of main-vein beam. (Sadly, this feature is reserved for countries where it’s legal. Here in the States, the XT6 simply, and obediently, dips the lights for oncoming traffic.) 

The dashboard fascia alone is enough to incite flights of fancy in your humble author, featuring as it does two massive planks of glossy, highly-figured wood veneer, chevron-matched in a manner that would cause Paul Reed Smith to weep with joy. It might be the finest use of natural materials in a mass-market automobile since… well, at least since the Series III Jag XJ6.

2020 Cadillac XT6 profile
GM
2020 Cadillac XT6

Which is appropriate, because the XT6 and XJ6 share more than two-thirds of a badge. Both were developed from existing platforms; in the case of the Cadillac, it’s the same bones which underpin the XT5, GMC Acadia, and Chevrolet Blazer. As with the Jag, which received a new roofline courtesy of Pininfarina, the XT6 is new above the beltline, in this case for the purpose of providing surprisingly decent accommodation to adults way back in the cheap seats. And just as the Series III ended up requiring more changes on the line than originally intended, the XT6 has a wheelbase which expands on that of the Acadia for a minuscule, but very real, two-tenths of an inch, presumably because some bit of packaging somewhere required the accommodation. 

This is the same trick Lexus pulled a few years ago with the RX350L: take your best-selling vehicle and cram a third row in the same basic envelope by pulling the tail out a bit. Lexus had good reason to do so; making the RX350L an attenuated attempt preserved some showroom space for the larger and presumably more profitable GX470. 

Cadillac has no such product in the GX470 range—their Escalade is a competitor for the even larger LX570—so why keep this XT6 on the approximate wheelbase of the GMC Acadia? Why not use the longer-wheelbase variant of the platform which underpins the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse? Your author heard a rumor that the XT6 was kept short, particularly with regards to wheelbase, in order to protect the market position of the Buick Enclave. Surely this is not true; Buick’s brand presence in the United States is, shall we say, uncompelling, based mostly on small crossovers assembled in China and Korea. If the rumor is true, the person responsible should be keelhauled, because the XT6 would be far more convincing on the Enclave wheelbase. Not that it’s particularly cramped at its current size, but there has never been a production Cadillac that would not be more interesting with extra second-row room, and that includes the Fleetwood Seventy-Five.

No sense in mooning over possibilities. Sufficient unto the day is the XT6 thereof, although the buyers will also need to be sufficiently funded. Both of the examples we drove—one Premium Sport and one Premium Luxury—listed for slightly above $72,000. What do you get for that kind of money, which would buy you anything from a no-frills BMW X7 to a 450-horsepower Grand Touring Aviator at the Lincoln showroom? Well, you get a part-time four-wheel-drive system, which will certainly raise some eyebrows. Apparently there’s a reason to do it that way—something about EPA ratings. The XT6, like its XT5 sibling, is also available as a plain FWD vehicle for summer states. 

Power is provided by the corporate 3.6-liter V-6 found in Camaros and Impalas. Some of the pre-production vehicles at the event had a “400” badge on them. Pressed on the topic, Cadillac spokespeople insisted that the number didn’t stand for horsepower or torque, which is good because the XT6 possesses 400 of precisely neither. “It’s… ah… a reflection of the general positioning in the power structure.” 

2020 Cadillac XT6 front
2020 Cadillac XT6 rear
2020 Cadillac XT6 interior
GM
2020 Cadillac XT6

Let us review. Cadillac calls the car the XT6 for no reason that any consumer might readily understand, and then puts a “400” badge on the back of it for no reason that anyone at all might readily understand. You can laugh all you want at names like “Fleetwood” and “Eldorado” but surely it was better to have a silly name than two silly numbers—particularly when the competitor is evocatively-yclept as “Aviator”.

The XT6 is not fast, particularly not when lined up against the turbocharged competition, and it displays a startling pause-at-redline-then-shift behavior at full throttle that will rock your Voss right out of a premium cupholder. Sport models have handsome fasciae and a trick rear differential which can steer the car into corners, but this seems ridiculous in a seven-seat minivan-by-another-name and, predictably, the Luxury variants of the XT6 make more sense. What’s probably required is the luxury ride with the sport trim, which would satisfy almost everyone. 

The XT6 is also not terribly quiet. The seats are woefully short on adjustment compared to the competition and the ventilating feature is less than convincing. Viewed from the side the Cadillac looks remarkably like a Honda Pilot, which costs much less. It is hard to imagine this vehicle taking the market by storm. 

Yet the same catty comment could have been made about the XT5, which has proven in fact to be remarkably popular regardless. Credit the Cadillac name, which retains some magic still, and the generally high level of service provided by the dealer network. Some percentage of buyers will like the XT6’s pretty face and tidy turning circle. They will appreciate the Bose stereo and the revised infotainment system. That gorgeous dashboard will get a few contracts signed, as will the generally admirable interior fit and finish. Last but not least, the FWD platform and front-heavy AWD will make it quite manageable in foul weather, particularly when compared to its high-powered, rear-driven competition from across the pond and across Detroit. 

2020 Cadillac XT6
GM
2020 Cadillac XT6

As an American alternative to the Lexus RX350L, the XT6 ticks most of the boxes. It is competently and satisfyingly executed. At its heart, however, this is a much cheaper vehicle, with a rental-grade tra(ns)verse engine and front-wheel-drive. Which doesn’t mean it can’t serve as a luxury car; Lexus has been pulling this trick since the early ’90s and Lincoln finally figured it out with the Continental. 

The problem is in the competitive set, which generally features brand-new RWD platforms and superior NVH at similar cost. If you’re looking for a great second-row cupholder, the XT6 has one. Looking for a truly great three-row crossover? Your search may not end here.